Champagne represents pure luxury like no other drink on earth. It's always the right choice for celebrating life's most important milestones and has been for centuries.
Did you know that champagne alone accounts for 10% of the global alcohol drinks market, with sales of $7 billion?
But exactly what is champagne, and what sets it apart from other sparkling wines? It turns out, it's all where it comes from and how it's made.
Let's explore the answer to "How is champagne made?" and find out why it's worth every cent.
Champagne vs Wine - What's the Difference?
Champagne is a type of wine, but it goes through an extra process.
Both start the same way. First, winemakers ferment grape juice to produce non-carbonated wine. But then champagne goes through a second fermentation. This produces the characteristic fizz we all love.
The Romans brought grapes to France over 1,500 years ago, but the modern origins of champagne go back to 1697. A monk named Dom Perignon is believed to have invented this fizzy crowdpleaser.
Champagne is also a bit of a diva. You can't second ferment any old wine and make champagne. But, first, it can only be produced in the Champagne region of France.
There are seven permitted grape varieties for use in making champagne. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are the three most common ones. The last two are red grapes, although champagne is usually white and occasionally rosé.
To say the champagne making process is carefully controlled would be an understatement! So let's look at how to make champagne the modern way.
How Is Champagne Made?
The making of champagne involves ten intricate steps. Let's start right in the vineyard.
Harvesting the Grapes
Champagne grapes are typically a blend of 2/3 red grapes and 1/3 Chardonnay. The blend is known as the cuvée. Although you'll see the word cuvée used in various ways on wine bottles, in champagne, it means wine made from the first pressing of the grapes.
Pressing the Grapes
The grapes for champagne are pressed in a device called a pressoir coquart. This can hold 4000kg of grapes, and the first 2,050 litres are the cuvée. The 500 litres pressed after this form the taille, or juice of lower quality.
The pressoir coquart has an interesting design. It is shallow, which means that the juice does not spend much time in contact with the skins. This lets champagne makers extract white wine from red grapes.
The cuvée is now put into large tanks for its first fermentation. During this process, it ferments into completely dry, still white wine. Fermentation turns all of the sugar into alcohol at this point.
Single malt might be the pinnacle of whiskeys, but it's all about that blend for champagne.
The champagne blender is a highly skilled individual. They take many base wines and carefully blend them to create the house cuvée. This means that you get variation from year to year, depending on the blend chosen.
They don't just use this year's wine. They also add wines reserved from previous years to create a more complex and rounded flavour profile.
Fermentation relies on sugar and yeast, and that's precisely what the champagne now gets. Wine, sugar and yeast combine to make a liqueur de tirage. This is added to the base wine, and the mixture gets put into bottles to start making those bubbles.
It doesn't get its fancy cork yet - just something that looks like the cap on a stubby. The bottles are stacked for up to three months.
The second ferment creates an unwanted byproduct - sediment. Remuage is the process of moving the sediment ever so carefully down into the neck of the bottle. They use gravity to do this, gradually moving them from a horizontal to a vertical position.
This takes about three weeks to complete.
Now in a vertical position, the champagne ages for a minimum of 15 months. Vintage champagnes age for three years or more.
The name for the sediment of dead yeast cells is the 'lees'. Thus, this process is 'ageing on the lees'.
We're sure you're wondering what happens to all that yeast gunk in the neck of the bottles? They get rid of it in the most dramatic way possible. Think of the end of a Grand Prix, and you've got the right idea.
First, they freeze the cap end briefly in freezing brine. The sediment is now solid and ready for its party trick. Then, they take off the cap, and the wine fire the gunk plug out (along with a fair bit of wine).
They replace the wasted wine by topping it up with a mixture called liqueur d'expedition. They also add various quantities of sugar, depending on the types of champagne they make. Brut champagne is very and gets none, but sec and demi-sec varieties are sweeter and need a little sugar.
The champagne is now ready for its final seal - a majestic crown-like cork and metal cage. The champagne is now ready for release and to be enjoyed - no extra ageing needed!
Types of Champagne
Champagne varies from producer to producer and comes in different sweetness levels.
'Doux' is the sweetest type of champagne - it's French for sweet, understandably. They are then graded as follows, from sweetest to driest:
- Extra dry
- Extra Brut
- Brut nature
Doux has up to 50 grams of sugar per litre, whereas brut nature has only 3 grams. This gives you an idea of the range of dryness.
Here's an interesting fact for you - champagne is much lower in calories than wine! Wine clocks in at 160 calories a glass, whereas champagne is a light and lovely 77 calories. But watch out for doux, which clocks in with more calories because of all that sugar.
Champagne - The Perfect Gift!
Having fully answered the question, "how is champagne made?" you can now understand why no one's making it at home.
But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't enjoy it at home, preferably on a regular basis! Nothing lets someone know they're being spoiled better than a champagne hamper. So let them delight in the real thing - a truly French treat that can't be made anywhere else in the world.Check out our range of champagne hampers and treat your loved one today!